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Study Of Reddit Marijuana Posts Shows How Being Super High Or Sober Affects Types Of Submissions To r/Trees



Researchers in a newly published journal article examined posts in a popular marijuana-focused Reddit community, finding that certain types of submissions seemed to correlate with how high users reported being. In particular, posts about in-person social settings were associated with “greater subjective highness” than those concerning online social environments.

“Posters reported greater subjective highness when using language that referred to in-person social environments,” says the study, published last month in the journal PLOS One, “and lower subjective highness when using language that referred to online social environments and positive affect psychological states.”

Authors of the study analyzed hundreds of thousands of Reddit posts that were submitted from 2010 to 2018, looking at those that employed a convention on the subreddit in which users include bracketed numbers indicating how high they felt at the time.

That involves “a scale of 0–10, indicated in brackets,” researchers explained, “where 0 is ‘sober,’ 1–2 is ‘buzzed,’ and 10 is ‘in space.”

“This subjective highness rating reflects online community-driven efforts to create a measurement convention for relating shared experiences of cannabis consumption,” they added.

The goal of the new research was to use those bracketed numbers to study what contexts were associated with greater or lesser feelings of highness.

“The aim of this study is to conduct an exploratory descriptive analysis of subjective highness ratings and corresponding text as reported in the r/trees community subreddit,” authors wrote. “Overall, we seek to examine: What is the general discourse in the r/trees community when contributors post how ‘high’ they are? How is this numerical highness rating related to the textual expressions of Reddit posters in r/trees?”

Examining 328,865 posts that employed the bracketed reporting system, the five-person research team then looked at contextual clues in an effort to see how set and setting may have affected the poster’s feeling of highness.

“A key contribution to the understanding of psychoactive substances, both in academic literature and among people who use drugs, is the framework of set and setting,” the study explains. “In this framework, the effects of psychoactive substances are dependent on the ‘set’ of the person using the substance (e.g., internal beliefs, expectations, intentions) as well as their ‘setting’ (e.g., environments that may be social, material, cultural).”

In addition to in-person social settings, other terms associated with greater feelings of highness had to do with more potent cannabis products, such as dabbable concentrates.

“We found that mean subjective highness was significantly greater in posts mentioning high-THC dabbing, edible, and concentrate terms when compared to posts mentioning smoking terms,” the study says, although posts that mentioned mode of use “were relatively infrequent,” making up about 18 percent of total posts.

Topic prevalence, descriptions, and relationship to subjective highness rating.

Meacham, et al. / PLOS One

The researchers highlighted sample posts, noting that “each post could contain several topics.”

“For example, ‘First time posting, long time lurker, my fellow ents. I got to a [9] last night with my roommate and drew this picture. I just realized how nice our smoke spot is‘ is characterized by topics of ‘first time posting,’ ‘camaraderie,’ ‘last night,’ ‘other people,’ ‘just/recently,’ and ‘smoke spot.'”

Authors found that the “most prevalent topics referred to both psychological sets (cognition and affect) and environmental settings (smoking locations, social contexts).”

“In general, the higher the rating, the more likely posters referred to the recent past and to in-person social contexts,” the study says. “The lower the rating, the more likely posters referred to cognitive and affective processes, online social contexts, and smoking sessions or spots.”

The data offer insight into real-world cannabis use, authors wrote, noting that “effects reported in controlled laboratory settings may differ from those experienced in naturalistic settings.”

“For this ‘real world’ dataset of experiences in naturalistic settings,” authors wrote, “we may not know the exact timing or dose of cannabis or THC, but we can infer that the posters had an experience that was remarkable or salient enough to share with this online community.”

Authors of the report represented the University of California San Francisco, UC San Diego, Portland State University, Johns Hopkins University and La Trobe University in Melbourne.

Why do users report a greater feeling of highness when posting about social settings? The study offers a few possible explanations.

“First, around others, people may use in more quantity than they otherwise would, which has also been reported in alcohol,” they suggested, adding that people may also use marijuana in social settings despite not knowing its potency or other information about the drug’s quality.

“Additionally, as with other substances,” they continued, “people may also become more aware of how high they are when interacting with other people.”

One takeaway from the findings, authors said, is that health officials might better warn users about situations where they might be inclined to get too high.

“Implications for public health risk communication include messaging around situations where people may get ‘too high’ unexpectedly,” they wrote. “A related implication is the role social environments have on self-titration to an optimal level of experience, while also minimizing harms to oneself or others (such as developing a cannabis use disorder or driving while intoxicated).”

Notably, they pointed out that past research “has found that while use of higher potency cannabis is correlated with greater intoxication, individuals may intentionally consume less in certain settings.” For example, an online survey study from 2020 “found that intoxication level perceived as safe for driving was associated with frequency of driving under the influence of cannabis, while typical level of intoxication was not.”

It’s far from the first time researchers have used Reddit to draw conclusions about real-world cannabis use. A separate study published in 2021, for example, examined posts in an effort to determine exactly what kinds of online conversations may have influenced the public’s shift toward support of marijuana legalization.

Another study, published in 2018, helped researchers identify trends and patterns in cannabis consumption. That work led to a series of discoveries, including a few that might seem obvious to regular consumers (e.g. that dabbing was gaining in popularity even as users still largely favored smoking cannabis flower). While that study didn’t specifically name r/trees as the source of the data, the paper’s description left little doubt that the community was the source of the data.

More recent research, published last month, looked at a Reddit community aimed at providing young people with information—r/saplings. It found that although responses to users’ posts “were generally thorough and responsive,” nearly all came from “opinions and personal experiences” rather than reliable sources.

While youth seemed increasingly to be turning to online platforms like Reddit to answer questions about marijuana, researchers said, there’s a “lack of verifiable information being exchanged,” which could allow misinformation to spread “and inadvertently worsen the efforts to reduce cannabis harm.”

Those shortcomings could reveal an opportunity, authors of that study said. Interventions—including, potentially, on Reddit itself—that “provide understandable and accurate information in accessible formats may increase young people’s ability to access and practice harm reduction.”

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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


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